If you have any Regard to your future Happiness; any View of living comfortably with a Husband; any Hope of preserving your Fortunes, or restoring them after any Disaster; Never, Ladies, marry a Fool; any Husband rather than a Fool…
So begins Roxana’s life of woe, written as a cautionary tale “to my Fellow-creatures, the Young Ladies of this country,” that any life is better than marriage with a Fool “nay be any thing, be even an Old Maid, the worst of Nature’s Curses, rather than take up with a Fool.”
Because, Fool she marries, has 5 children by him, suffers through her brother’s financial folly and thereby hers when he is given her portion of their father’s inheritance which he spends and then the folly of her husband’s financial losses. To add to this latest injury, her husband leaves her and their five children to find his fortune elsewhere, with no provision for food, bills or a roof over their head.
Though he has threatened to leave in the past, Roxana never believed he would do it and expects to hear from him or to at least receive something for her livelihood, but as the weeks and months drag on there is no word from him and she begins selling furniture, clothing and jewelry to feed the household. As the situation deteriorates, she knows she must give up her children and hopes the sister of her husband will oblige, so she sends her devoted maid Amy, who has been working without wages, to take the children to their aunt.
The landlord, who has given Roxana a year’s free rent to sort out her situation, begins to insinuate himself in her financial affairs with food and other necessities, which Roxana believes are without strings. However, it becomes clear that if Roxana is interested in staying in the house, he will want to share it with her, cohabit, as if they are a married couple. This is the predicament Roxana will find herself in throughout her life as no word from her husband either for a divorce or by a death certificate will allow her to legally marry. She will be forced to survive in cohabitation, as a mistress, a concubine, a whore.
After the landlord dies, she continues in this manner with successive men, in various situations, acknowledging she is at least lucky that her beauty can still attract rich men, even after so many children and the wear and tear of the guilt she suffers over the choices she has had to make since her husband left. She is given beautiful clothes, jewelry and homes to live in and money to keep up her lifestyle. One of her greatest fears as the years pass in this way, is over the control of this fortune, which she would have to give up if ever she could legally marry. Marriage would mean her husband would control her estate to do with it what he would and as past circumstances have shown her, she could once again find herself unprotected and defenseless. This terrifies her even after she hears her husband has died and she is free to marry legally.
Roxana is never morally accepting of the choices she has made and is often ashamed at her sinful life. The fate of her children haunt her and she wants to make restitution although the difficulty here is admitting to them how she has come by her wealth. With Amy as her “agent,” she makes some financial amends, but this ends up in disaster later on.
The subject matter of this 18th century novel made me wonder how it was received in its day. I discovered the book was popular, though throughout many early editions, the ending was changed by whoever published it as was common at the time. Most had Roxana on her deathbed confessing her sins and crying out her repentance giving her a measure of goodness and assurance of a Christian burial. In some of the endings when she reveals the truth to her children they forgive her and the book ends happily.
However, the real text as Defoe writes it ends with Roxana and Amy’s world collapsing once again into destitution, “the Blast of Heaven seem’d to follow the Injury…and I was brought so low again, that my Repentance seem’d to be only the Consequence of my Misery, as my Misery was of my Crime.
Note on the Text
My edition preserves the original format of the text keeping the unique spellings and word usage, the capitalization of words within sentences and the seemingly (to me, anyway) random italicization of words. But it was not difficult to read. Though at times dense, Defoe’s writing is descriptive and absorbing as if Roxana is telling her story live, in front of a spellbound audience.
A Personal Note
If not for a reading challenge that called for a book with an ‘x’ in the title, I am not sure I would have chosen this book. I scoured myriad lists to find a title and though I knew of Defoe, having read A Journal of the Plague Year many years ago, I had never heard of this title, so I was happy to acquaint myself with another one of his works. Though I am not always successful in completing book challenges, I can honestly say they have enriched my life!
Title: Roxana, The Fortunate Mistress
or, a History of the
Life and Vast Variety of Fortunes of
Mademoiselle de Beleau, afterwards called
the Countess de Wintselsheim
Being the Person know by
the Name of the Lady Roxana
in the time of Charles II
Author: Daniel Defoe
Publisher: Oxford World’s Classics
Device: Trade paperback
Pages: 330 Full plot summary
Challenges: Classics Club, What’s in a Name?, Mount TBR
I didn’t run from the redcoats, and I won’t run from a dockside miasma. What is wrong with people…We suffered all kinds of disease in our youth, but folks were sensible. They didn’t squall like children and hide in the woods. Captain William Farnsworth Cook, Pennsylvania Fifth Regiment.
Fever 1793, is a compelling historical novel based on the yellow fever epidemic that ravaged Philadelphia during the stifling hot summer of 1793. The story centers on 13-year old Mattie Cook, who watches helplessly as her beloved city grapples with the fear and devastation the epidemic wreaks.
Mattie’s parents own Cook’s Coffeehouse, a hub for politicians and merchants located two blocks from President Washington’s house. Philadelphia is the nation’s first capital city and Mattie is proud to live here. Since her father died, she helps her mother run the business along with Polly, the serving girl and her childhood friend, and Eliza, a free black who has been cooking up the special fare Cook’s is known for since it opened. As the city has prospered, so has Cook’s.
But August has brought fever—just a few cases to start, but enough to worry Mattie’s mother, Lucille, who forbids her daughter from doing any errands or getting provisions down at the docks. Some people are certain the refugees from Barbados have brought the illness and want them quarantined. Though others remind them there is always a sickness during the height of summer heat. Still, there are more cases as August progresses and there have been deaths. Lucille puts more restrictions on Mattie, who is frustrated at being so confined. When Polly does not come to work one day and it is learned she died of the fever, Lucille is adamant that Mattie be sent out of the city to friends out of town.
When it is declared the illness is in fact yellow fever, Philadelphia quickly empties as the wealthy leave for their homes in the country and others write to friends and family outside the city hoping they will take them in. Ships stop docking making food and other supplies scarce forcing businesses to close. Many who can’t get out hoard as much food as they can and close up their homes hunkering down inside for the duration. Amidst protest, Mattie is sent away with her grandfather.
And so begins Mattie’s harrowing journey to the family she never gets to, to the fever that almost kills her and the hospital stay where she recovers. Though weak and with Philadelphia still in the grip of the fever, her age precludes her being released with no place to go. There is no word of her mother’s fate and her aged grandfather cannot take full responsibility for her. Her only option is an orphan house for children who lost their parents and who have no other family to care for them.
But Mattie refuses. She wants to find her mother and go back home. Her determination cannot be matched, so she and her grandfather return to the coffeehouse only to find it has been plundered. After a few days of cleaning up, the coffeehouse is again broken into and her grandfather is killed. Mattie is now afraid to stay by herself.
Wives were deserted by husbands, and children by parents. The chambers of diseases were deserted, and the sick left to die of negligence. None could be found to remove the lifeless bodies. Their remains, suffered to decay by piecemeal, filled the air with deadly exhalations, and added tenfold to the devastation. Charles Brockden Brown (Memoirs of the Year 1793)
One of the very engaging aspects of the book are the historical quotes that begin each chapter adding to the reality of this frightening time. The real epidemic killed an astonishingly 5,000 people during the summer and early fall of 1793 until the first frost in October brought it to an end.
Anderson incorporates into the novel several contentious issues the epidemic sparked, including the controversial use of bloodletting to “release the poisons” from the blood; the argument between doctors who believed the fever spread through a “miasma” in the air, therefore confining patients to rooms with no access to fresh air versus those doctors who believed fresh air was healthy and part of the cure; the overwhelming number of children orphaned by the epidemic who needed to be housed; how the fever transformed some relationships between blacks and whites who worked together to help the city; and how this catastrophe brought out the best and worst in people as they fought for their lives.
There is great distress in the city for want of cash. Friendship is nearly entirely banished from our city. Dr. Benjamin Rush (1793)
Not for the The Free African Society, however. Founded in 1787 to aid widows, the infirm and out of work Africans, during the epidemic it offered to help all citizens of Philadelphia. Richard Allen and Absalom Jones co-founders of the Society put advertisements in the papers: “We set out to see where we could be useful—the black people were looked to. We then offered our services in the public papers, by advertising that we would remove the dead and procure nurses.”
And in fact, this is how Mattie found Eliza. After her grandfather was killed, Mattie knew she couldn’t stay in the coffeehouse and set out looking for news of her mother. She stumbled upon Eliza in the streets and found she was caring for and feeding the sick wherever she was needed. Eliza was able to fill Mattie in on all that had transpired since she was sent away. Mattie learned that her mother had gone to the family she was sent to, so what could she think when she found that Mattie had never arrived? But for the moment it was decided that without her grandfather and with the business too dangerous to stay in alone, Mattie would stay with Eliza’s family and would go out with her and nurse the sick.
Blessed be God for the change in the weather. The disease visibly and universally declines. Dr. Benjamin Rush (1793)
For weeks the city was caught in the grip of fever, death carts piled high as they rumbled down the streets. Finally, one blessed night a frost sets in and in a little more than a day or two the epidemic is over. Almost immediately the ships begin to dock bringing food and supplies to the beleaguered city and those who went to the country come back. George Washington makes his way back to Philadelphia and the whole city comes alive.
But Mattie has an uncertain future ahead of her. It is suggested she go into an orphan house until she reaches maturity. If she sells the coffeehouse, she can use the money for a dowry. Maturity? Hasn’t she seen and done enough in the last few months as any adult? No, she thinks. The coffeehouse is hers and it is a good respectful business. She will reopen it. But she knows she can’t do it alone and there is only one person she can trust who also has the experience to make the coffeehouse successful again. Though it is unconventional, she asks Eliza to go into partnership. She does not have to be asked twice.
A very satisfying book in which I learned about an event in American history I did not know before.
Title: Fever 1793
Author: Laurie Halse Anderson
Publisher: Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers
Device: Trade paperback
Pages: 252 Full plot summary
Every letter is something of a miracle. A soul dictates its thoughts. Queer markings appear on a piece of paper. The paper is sealed and stamped. Other signs are placed on the outer covering. The little packet is intrusted [sic] to utter strangers. It arrives. It is translated by another soul. It may transform a day–those hieroglyphics of a soul.
This book-find was providential. I stumbled upon it at the library used book department.
It is a short book by an author I’d never heard of, but just a glance through the pages showed me not just a kindred spirit, but a mentor, a way-shower who teaches me to revel in the sacredness of mundane daily life. This is a spiritual book without theology or sectarian divides, celebrating ordinary aspects of the daily round from the playful to the profound. As such, Graham is quick to define charged words so as not to be misinterpreted:
Soul and Heaven will have no philosophical nor theological connotation. Soul will be used as a symbol to represent the most important part of a person, the part that is admitted into Heaven. Heaven will refer to the place we think of when we think very quickly, before we have the opportunity to consult any second-hand information. A Ceremonial may be interpreted as a spiritual obeisance to the created beauty of the world.
The word Ceremonial as Graham uses it is something you create either in your mind while waiting for an appointment or on the train or a physical act you do alone or for someone. A Ceremonial is a way of thanking, acknowledging, of gratitude. Her words are simple, but deep and descriptive.
Divided into four sections corresponding to the four seasons, Graham starts with Winter and Christmas Eve when “Love is clothed with visible vestments, with gifts and written words…The love that through the year is silenced by ‘busy-ness’ is expressed in terms of tangible beauty. Christmas Eve is the Ceremonial of Gifts, of gifts that are given to explain something which the heart cannot say.”
In Spring she celebrates The Day of the First Fruits of My Garden. “It is a song of joy for created things—joy that a seed planted in the ground will bring forth its fruit in its season; that a dream intrusted [sic] to the soil of a human heart will bring forth its harvest of an hundred fold.”
In the Spring there are also Vagabond Rites that take place on trains, walks through town, pilgrimages to a favorite orange orchard. The “pretentious rites” are those of train travel that involve overnights where the newness of views out the window, food prepared differently, the company of strangers is a Ceremonial that “loosens up tightened soil and conserves wonder.”
Graham writes with touching tenderness about writing letters on New Year’s Eve, the kindness of Pullman car porters, of coffee, fountain pens and the desire to free all the balloons from the balloon man, because they belong to the sky.
In Summer, there is the Liturgy of Common Things like coffee, for instance.
The Coffee Ceremonial is observed at breakfast following the first night of camping out in summer. The only requirement is that there must be enough and to spare…Good coffee is good, not because of blends or grades but because of sociability and leisure. The best coffee is Sunday morning coffee, or camp coffee, or afternoon coffee, or after-dinner coffee, or coffee which is drunk on some such unhurried social occasion. The Ceremonial of Coffee is, therefore, a Ceremonial of Comradeship.
In Summer, there is also the Ceremonial of Hotel Stationary, made possible by the hotel management who also gives you “pen, ink, blotters and mail box.”
All year round there is the Ceremonial of Sundays, called specifically, The Festival of Beauty, of Loved Things, of Leisure, and of Worship.
I reserve for it whatever I most enjoy—flowers, blue china at breakfast, books, important letters, special walks, colored candles at supper and waffles, pine incense and colored flames in my fire. On Sunday I would not do any work, not say nor think nor do unworthy things. I may this day announce to the people who I like the fact that I do like them.
Autumn brings Thanksgiving and the Ceremonial of Being Glad for People, not necessarily people she knows well, but the anonymous children she passes who play in the street, shop owners, porters on trains, post office employees who make letter-writing possible, musicians, nurses—
for those whom I know only through the printed page, for those who have designed certain buildings and parks and monuments, who have constructed roads, for those who sit in offices and plan for the well-being of the world, for the people around the world who work that I may have the necessities of life.
For Thanksgiving is an articulate season, a time for expressing the unspoken things of the heart. The Ceremonial of Being Glad for People was the initial ceremonial. Because of it the other ceremonials were made necessary.
The end of Autumn brings her full-circle when it is time for the first fire, which marks winter. “The Ceremonial of My First Fire, belongs to the gods…All the gods who have ever been worshiped through the medium of fire are summoned to this Festival of Fire. (my little wood fire) is no longer an ordinary receptacle for burning wood, it is consecrated with a loveliness that shall make it worthy of the comradeship of a winter.”
Ceremonials of Common Days though published in 1923, reminds me of what I call today’s ‘gratitude movement,’ a daily practice of declaring joy and thankfulness for the ordinary bounty of our lives. I like this perspective, because I think the ordinary and the mundane are underrated. Little miracles occur everyday, but we step over them, ignore or see past them, because we expect something bigger. I love that Graham reminds me that my small little life is bigger than I realize and to realize that is itself a miracle!
Have you ever come across something—a book, a painting, some music that affected you to the extent that it reflected your desire for something deeper or revealed another way of finding meaning in your life at a time when you were vulnerable or at a crossroad?
Title: Ceremonials of Common Days
Author: Abbie Graham
Publisher: The Womans Press
Pages: 97 Summary
Here is the connecting post. You can use the comment section below to submit the url of your offering. And I encourage you to use the hashtag #BloggingTheSpirit on Twitter and Instagram so we can find you, too.
I think this has come at a good time. My energy is flagging a bit and I feel the pressure of unfinished challenges before the year ends. Yes, this is self-inflicted pressure, but I sign up for these specific challenges because I LIKE them and the books they involve.
These Spins always bump up my enthusiasm and even though I don’t always finish on time, I usually do finish at some point. (Case in point: the last Spin, #15, was to be posted on May 1st. The Spin Goddess chose #12 which was Dracula. That post went up October 10th)!
If you are a Classics Clubber and have never done this I encourage you to try. It’s fun and you feel like part of the community.
It’s easy and simple to participate. From the website:
What is the spin?
It’s easy. At your blog, before next Friday, November 17th, create a post to list your choice of any twenty books that remain “to be read” on your Classics Club list.
This is your Spin List. You have to read one of these twenty books by the end of the year (details to follow). Try to challenge yourself. For example, you could list five Classics Club books you are dreading/hesitant to read, five you can’t WAIT to read, five you are neutral about, and five free choice (favorite author, re-reads, ancients — whatever you choose.)
On Friday, November 17th, we’ll post a number from 1 through 20. The challenge is to read whatever book falls under that number on your Spin List, by December 31, 2017. We’ll check in here in January to see who made it the whole way and finished their spin book!
Here is my list of 20 beginning from the top of my list of books I already have on my shelves. All the classics here would be first reads. I know, I know Pride and Prejudice, Rebecca, Wuthering Heights…where have I been?!!
ETA: And the Spin chose #4, Agnes Grey!
Jane Austen 1.Pride and Prejudice (1813) 2.Persuasion (1817)
Richard Doddridge Blackmore 3.Lorna Doone (1869)
Anne Bronte 4.Agnes Grey (1847)
5.The Tenant of Wildfell Hall (1848)
Emily Bronte 6.Wuthering Heights (1847)
Willa Cather 7.O Pioneers! (1913)
Daniel Defoe 8.Robinson Crusoe (1719)
Theodore Dreiser 9.Sister Carrie (1900)
Daphne Du Maurier 10.Rebecca (1938)
George Eliot 11.Silas Marner (1861) 12.Daniel Deronda (1876)
Elizabeth Gaskell 13.Mary Barton (1848)
14.Cranford (1851) 15.North and South (1854)
16.Wives and Daughters (1864)
George Gissing 17.The Odd Women (1893)
Radclyffe Hall 18.TheWell of Loneliness (1928)
Henry James 19.Portrait of a Lady (1881) 20.The Bostonians (1886)
In many traditions at this time of the year it is believed the veil between the living and the dead is thin. I don’t think it is any coincidence that Halloween/Samhain, the Day of the Dead and All Saints’/All Souls’ Day occur within days of each other. Darkness has begun its descent over the land and that always brings up death. Christians probably took up the earlier concept of the Pagan commemoration of the dead and made it their own, but instead of seeing this as a competition, I see it as complementary.
I came to this conclusion as I worked on my guest post for WitchWeek, a week long celebration of fantasy books and authors hosted at the Emerald City Book Review. This year, the theme is Dreams of Arthur. I finally understand the overlap of Paganism and Christianity that infuses King Arthur and Camelot: that King Arthur emerges from Celtic folklore, yet becomes very firmly placed in one of Christianity’s biggest mysteries, the Quest for the Holy Grail.
That the occupier appropriates the customs of the occupied is an important awareness, but it doesn’t mean we have to throw out the newer rites. During the last several generations the resurgence of Paganism, Witchcraft, modern Druidy and other non-Christian traditions continues to rise and practitioners reconstruct rites and ceremonies that, in my opinion, are a positive shift.
The last harvest is another theme we share. Just as in the old days people spent this time of the year gathering up the last of the harvest, bringing in the animals and making preparations for winter’s long period of indoor living, we do the same. This was made clear to me during the years I lived in Chicago when the changes of seasons—and the changes of activities—especially during winter, were in stark contrast to those of my native California!
So, as we begin to pull in both externally as well as internally we reap our modern harvest. And as we did of old we celebrate our ancestors and remember our more recent dead.
I wish everyone a Happy Halloween, Samhain Blessings, a meaningful Dia de los Muertos and Blessed All Saints’/All Souls’ days.
I am remembering my dad today, who died this year:
James Martin Welch
June 26, 1932-April 17, 2017
Are you remembering anyone during this time?
Join Lory this week in celebrating King Arthur, his Knights and the Camelot community with posts, a giveaway, lively discussions and a readalong of Kazuo Ishiguro’s, The Buried Giant!
Everyday is a renewal, Every morning the daily miracle. This joy you feel is life. – Gertrude Stein
When I say I connect to God in Nature, it sounds so trite.
And so unoriginal. Even though it is true.
I am not very good at articulating what I mean, because when I try I sound so superficial.
As I am a reader I can’t help but be inspired by words, whether they are officially-sanctioned liturgy and sacred writings or the personal musings of well-known writers and other artists or someone like me. I drink them in and am inspired. And connected.
I chose just a few examples to share. I really ‘feel’ these and I hope you will, too.
Recently, a friend pointed me to the writings of Reb Nachman of Breslov. Admittedly, I had stereotyped people like this as being so different than me, what could we possibly have in common? Well, a lot, as it turns out. According to tradition, Reb Nachman often went into the fields and meadows to pray and be alone with God.
Grant me the ability to be alone; May it be my custom to go outdoors each day Among the trees and grasses, Among all growing things And there may I be alone, And enter into prayer To talk with the one that I belong to.
—Rebbe Nachman of Breslov (1772-1811) was a Hasidic master and religious thinker and a great-grandson of the founder of Hasidism, the Baal Shem Tov.
In the Episcopal Church, short topical prayers can be inserted into the liturgy of Morning and Evening Prayers.
We give you thanks, most gracious God, for the beauty of earth and sky and sea; for the richness of mountains, plains and rivers; for the songs of birds and the loveliness of flowers. We praise you for these good gifts, and pray that we may safeguard them for our posterity. Grant that we may continue to grow in our grateful enjoyment of your abundant creation, to the honor and glory of your Name, now and for ever. Amen.
Book of Common Prayer, Episcopal Church
Mary Austin (1869-1934) wrote beautifully of the deserts and mountains of the High Sierras.
I rise, facing East, I am asking toward the light, I am asking that my day Shall be beautiful with light. I am asking that the place Where my feet are shall be light, That as far as I can see I shall follow it aright. I am asking for the courage To go forward through the shadow, I am asking toward the light!
—Mary Austin was an early nature writer of the American southwest. The Land of Little Rain (1903) is a classic on the animals, people and plant life of the High Sierras and the Mojave desert of Southern California.
In this prayer, Albert Schweitzer (1875-1965) writes about reverence for the life of animals. I find this particularly emotive and frankly, I wish everyone felt this way…
Hear our humble prayer, O God, for our friends the animals, especially for animals who are suffering; for any that are hunted or lost, or deserted or frightened or hungry; for all that must be put to death. We entreat for them all Thy mercy and pity and for those who deal with them we ask a heart of compassion and gentle hands and kindly words. Make us, ourselves, to be true friends to animals and so to share the blessings of the merciful.
—Albert Schweitzer, the philosopher/theologian won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1952.
Wendell Barry (1934-) writes often about his connection to nature and on environmental issues. His poems are personal, but so relatable.
When despair for the world grows in me and I wake in the night at the least sound in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be, I go and lie down where the wood drake rests
in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds. I come into the peace of wild things who do not tax their lives with forethought of grief. I come into the presence of still water. And I feel above me the day-blind stars waiting with their light. For a time I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
—Wendell Berry is a well-known environmentalist and writer.
Are you inspired by poems or passages that are similar? I would love to know about them!
Here is the connecting post. You can use the comment section below to submit the url of your offering. And I encourage you to use the hashtag #BloggingTheSpirit on Twitter and Instagram so we can find you, too.